Sophie Ndaba-Lichaba is used to turning heads wherever she goes. Having cemented herself as a small-screen darling, Sophie Lichaba has been a fan favourite for more than 20 years.
Yet nothing could prepare her for the brutal public backlash when she stepped out at a Heritage Day function in Soweto. It wasn’t the star’s flattering red dress but rather her sunken cheeks that dropped jaws. The actress, who shot to fame as the voluptuous Queen Moroka in Generations, was noticeably slimmer.
Is she ill, fans wondered? Did she have HIV, others speculated on social media?
The body-shaming prompted Sophie to explain her appearance. “I’m sending my love to all my friends and family who are concerned about my weight and health,” she wrote on Instagram.
“Some people sadden me because I have lost both my parents through diabetes. I nursed them, so I know this killer disease. IT’S REAL. No joke. Our fellow sisters and brothers commit suicide because of pressure of what you negative heartless people think. I stopped worrying what any negative person thinks long ago. Just surprised that grown people share such heartless opinions.”
But her candid post didn’t deter cyberbullies. Even her husband of 10 months, Max Lichaba, hasn’t been spared, Sophie tells DRUM. Sophie revealed that even her husband was advised by some girl to dump her as she had become too scary to sleep next to.
“Just last week a girl sent him a message on Instagram saying, ‘Do you really wake up next to her? Isn’t she scary?’”
It’s these barbs that have bruised the actress and businesswoman’s feelings. “Right now I’ve lost a little bit too much, obviously, but I’m going to gain a little bit more.”
With more than two decades in showbiz, Sophie has had to grow a thick skin to deal with the public scrutiny but she’s still surprised by how cruel people can be. “People send my husband such nasty messages on social media,” she says. “Women say, ‘That woman looks so weird. Do you really love her?’”
Sophie says Max has been nothing but caring in the face of her body-shaming.
“I don’t care what people say about me because if I did care, I’d slip into depression. My kids understood what I was going through and so has my husband, who has been very supportive.”
THE past few years have been rough for Sophie: she lost her parents, Joyce and Solly Mphasane, to diabetes in 2010 and 2016 respectively. In 2015 she too was diagnosed with the condition. And it’s this that prompted her to drastically change her lifestyle.
She recalls the events that led to her diagnosis. “I was in the mall when I felt unwell. I couldn’t read the names of the different shops and began to feel dizzy,” she says.
Knowing that diabetes is genetic, and having taken care of her parents, Sophie had a sneaky suspicion about what was wrong with her.
“I went straight to Dis-Chem and I bought a machine [that measures blood sugar levels] to verify what I was thinking. I pricked myself there in the shop and my sugar levels were 19.”
Shocked by the result, Sophie called her mother’s doctor, Dr Blaine Bloy, who told her to come straight to the hospital so he could stabilise her sugar levels. “I was hospitalised for a week and a half because that’s how long it took to take my sugar levels down from 19 to the normal six.”
After being discharged from hospital Sophie got to work on changing her eating habits, which she admits wasn’t easy.
As a Type 2 diabetic her diet is limited. “I can’t do many dairy products. And
there are certain fruits I can’t eat, like pineapple and grapes, because they have too much sugar.
“It’s hard, because while other people can take something off the shelf and buy it, I have to read the labels on everything before I buy it and I really have to get my family to support me.”
Over the course of three years Sophie, who is 1,6m tall, has gone from 95kg to 65kg – the lightest she’s been all her adult life. “For many years I was a size 36 but people don’t understand that I was still obese,” she says. “People don’t realise the word obese means your weight is not correct for your height. I was obese for my height because I was 10-15kg overweight and I wanted to get rid of the weight to be normal.”
These days her breakfast consists of oats or an apple and Sophie says she snacks on almonds because other nuts are too oily. For lunch she has fish with a salad drizzled with sugar-free dressing. At midday she snacks on fruit such as kiwi – which doesn’t contain much sugar – and for supper she’ll have chicken and vegetables. She drinks plenty of water throughout the day and has cut all red meat from her diet.
HAVING gone public with her diabetes battle, Sophie is on a mission to create awareness around the condition.
She’s planning to launch a lifestyle blog detailing how she keeps fit and healthy and hopes to debunk the misconception that diabetes is a “simple disease”.
“Trust me, this is a bigger killer than HIV,” she says.
“People who live with HIV live a better life than people living with diabetes because people with HIV can eat whatever they want without feeling sick within 30 minutes. “It’s a silent killer.” Battling diabetes is hard enough without being body-shamed, she says.
“People must start waking up and stop criticising people who live with any kind of chronic disease.”
Sophie is also planning to return to the small screen in a show called Hashtag.
“We haven’t started shooting yet but it’s going to be very, very exciting.”
The show, she says, will focus on trending topics from all across the world and will give fans a chance to share their thoughts and opinions on stories that affect society.
“I’m also working on two shows of my own, with the same people who are doing Hashtag,” she says. Sophie is tightlipped about the TV shows she has in the pipeline, but says they’ve already completed scripts and concepts.
When she’s not working on her weight and TV projects Sophie, who runs a wedding-planning business, is scouring venues for her own white wedding.
Sophie and Max wed in a traditional ceremony in November last year. Now the couple – who share 10 children between them – will have a destination wedding “sometime” next year.
‘I’m just surprised that grown people share such heartless opinions’
So far they’ve narrowed down their venue options to three places, but aren’t ready to share the details. But before then Sophie wants to have another traditional ceremony at her family home in Soweto – and she doesn’t care what people will think. “My life is the way it should be, and I’m happy with it.”